Instead of being terrified of murder hornets, maybe we should just eat them like they do in some parts of Japan.

By Jelisa Castrodale
May 06, 2020
Advertisement

Because the scriptwriters for this year just don't know when to stop, we've recently learned that the Asian Giant Hornet—an oversized stinging insect that is also known as the "murder hornet" or the "yak killer"—has been found in the United States for the first time ever. The hornets, which are native to Asia and parts of Russia, can devastate honeybee colonies, reportedly kill between 30 and 50 people every year, and can fly at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. SLEEP TIGHT, EVERYONE! 

Lucien Villaréal / Adobe Stock

But in parts of Japan where the insects are prevalent, the hornets aren't just something to be terrified of: they're also a pretty good snack. According to the New York Times, in the country's central Chūbu region, exterminators and dedicated hornet-hunters are tasked with finding and removing the insects' massive nests. Both the insects and their larvae can be pan-fried or steamed, although only the adults are cooked on skewers and served like dangerous-looking shish kebabs. “Even when I tell people, they’re going to sting you, they still eat them," exterminator Torao Suzuki said. "They say it makes them potent." 

In Gifu prefecture, which is part of the Chūbu region, residents and visitors gather every year for the Kushihara Hebo Matsuri, which is the country's largest wasp festival. (Just in case it comes up on Jeopardy! later, hornets are a specific type of wasp.) The BBC reports that the now 27-year-old event includes dozens of vendors selling everything from chocolate-dipped wasps on sticks, to deep-fried murder hornets, to a centuries-old dish called hebo gohei mochi that features grilled sticky rice that has been coated with a sweet sauce made from miso, peanuts, and wasps. 

But... what do they taste like? BBC reporter Phoebe Amoroso described them as "the sort of snack that would go well with a beer," while chef Joseph Yoon told the New York Post that it could have a "popcorn-y flavor without the butter," and that the taste can vary depending on how the insects are prepared. 

Wasp-eating used to be more widespread throughout Japan, although in recent years, it's mostly found in Gifu prefecture. Some culinary historians have suggested that wasps were used as a source of protein and consumed mostly out of necessity, but others disagree. "One hundred grams of hebo [a word for the two kinds of less-aggressive wasp] are relatively high in protein, but in reality, no-one eats that quantity at a time," Kenichi Nonaka, professor of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, told the BBC. 

Nonaka said that in Gifu, wasp-hunting has long been a social activity, and the insects were served at local festivals and celebratory occasions. As a result, hunting and eating hebo have become part of the area's cultural identity. (While American millennials have been blamed for killing chain restaurants and the wine industry, their Japanese counterparts are being tasked with keeping hebo-related traditions alive, despite the fact that the younger generations seem decidedly less enthusiastic about raising wasps, selling hives, or potentially being stung to death.) 

“As long as one person who loves hebo is still alive, we will have enough motivation to keep the tradition going,” one optimistic Gifu-area forest ranger said. "Hebo are a way to connect people.”